Everyday African Food and Beautiful Culture

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sickle-Cell Disease In Africa

Sickle-cell disease or SCD is described as a change in the shape of the red blood cell from a smooth, donut shape into a crescent or half-moon shape. The misshapen cells lack flexibility and can block small blood vessels, blocking blood flow. This condition leads to shortened red blood cell survival, and sickle-cell anemia. Poor blood oxygen levels and blood vessel blockages in people with sickle-cell disease can lead to chronic acute pain disorders, severe bacterial infections, and tissue death.

Nigeria accounts for more than 100,000
new sickle-cell cases each year
SCD dominates non-communicable disease issues in sun-Saharan Africa. SCD can occur only when both parents are carriers of trait genes for the condition. In countries such as Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria, the prevalence of SCD is between 20 percent and 30 percent while in some parts of Uganda it is as high as 45 percent. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 75 percent of all patients with SCD live in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria alone accounts for more than 100,000 new births every year.

The majority of children with the most severe form of the disease die before the age of five, usually from an infection or severe anemia. Regular screening for SCD using a simple blood test is not a common practice, and diagnosis is usually made when a severe complication occurs. Presently, there is no cure for SCD. However, cost-effective treatment exists for the pain and other aspects of the disease. The most important components of this treatment are early intervention. Creation or strengthening of Africa’s sickle-cell disease programs is essential.

WHO states essential areas of work should cover advocacy; prevention and counseling; early detection and treatment; data collection, surveillance and research; and community education and partnerships. Management of sickle-cell disease at different levels of the health-care system should emphasize programs that use simple, affordable technology and are accessible to a large proportion of the community. Family and community-based care should be an integral part of the national program.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Child Marriage: A Bride Before Puberty

Child marriage is defined as marriage before the age of 18 and applies to both boys and girls, but the practice is far more common among young girls. Out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world, nine are in Africa.

Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, according to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Out of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world, nine are in Africa: Niger, 75 percent; Chad and Central African Republic, 68 percent; Bangladesh, 66 percent; Guinea, 63 percent; Mozambique, 56 percent; Mali, 55 percent; Burkina Faso and South Sudan, 52 percent; and Malawi, 50 percent. If current levels of child marriages hold, 14.2 million girls annually or 39,000 daily will marry too young. Furthermore, of the 140 million girls who will marry before they are 18, 50 million will be under the age of 15.

Sudanese refugees at the Sam Ouandja site in Northeastern
Central African Republic photo by hdptcar
“No girl should be robbed of her childhood, her education and health, and her aspirations. Yet today millions of girls are denied their rights each year when they are married as child brides”, says Michelle Bachelet, M.D., Executive Director of UN Women. Child marriage, which has existed for centuries, is a complex issue, rooted deeply in gender inequality, tradition and poverty. The practice is most common in rural and poorer areas, where prospects for girls can be limited. In many cases, parents arrange these marriages and young girls have no choice. However Malawi’s Health Minister states the government is working with chiefs to make aware the importance of sending children to school as an alternative to early marriage. Another reason for Malawi's effort to combat child marriages is the high teenage pregnancy rate and the fact that teenage pregnancies contribute to 20-30 percent of maternal deaths in the country.

In Malawi, at least half of young women are married before the age of 18. Parliamentarians of Malawi unanimously approved the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations bill, which raises the marriage age to 18 from the current minimum of 16. The bill will not make a real change unless Malawi’s Constitution changes and the attitudes of its people toward child marriage also changes. Under the country’s Constitution, individuals between the ages of 15 and 18 may be married if they obtain parental consent before entering into marriage. 

Girl Summit photo by DFID
UK Department for International Development
"Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15–19. Young girls who marry later and delay pregnancy beyond their adolescence have more chances to stay healthier, to better their education and build a better life for themselves and their families,” says Flavia Bustreo, M.D., Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization. Too many families marry their daughters simply because early marriage is the only option they know.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Why Mosquitoes Buzz Only In Beautiful Ears

A long time ago, when the world was much quieter and younger than it is now, people told and believed many strange stories about wonderful things which none of us have ever seen. In those very early times, in West Africa, there lived a Mosquito and a beautiful ear ready for marriage. There were all sorts of living things courting the beautiful ear professing their undying love. Ear had a difficult time making a decision, then along came mosquito.

West African Folktale
Why Mosquitoes Buzz Only In Beautiful Ears

“I want you to be my wife”, said Mosquito.

Ear said “marry you, are you serious? You are a tiny weak mosquito and will be dead before the week is over, I will never marry the likes of you!”

Mosquito was really hurt by all that Ear said. It was very embarrassing to be talked to like that in front of all the other living things. They began whispering and snickering to each other as mosquito flew away. Mosquito said to himself "dead before the week is over, we will see about that!" And from that day forward, whenever Mosquito sees a beautiful Ear, he flies up to her and whispers, “Here I am, I am not dead” This is why mosquitoes buzz only in beautiful ears.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Seychelles Home of the Giant 66 pound Sea Coconut of Africa

Seychelles is home to the Lodoicea maldivica or Sea Coconut of Africa. Seychelles is a collection of islands in the Indian Ocean. The largest island on the Seychelles is Mahe, which is home to about 90% of the population of Seychelles and the site of its capital city Victoria. The Seychelles is home to numerous amounts cinnamon trees and one of the original homes of the Sea Coconut also known as Coco de Mer. The Sea Coconut has the largest leaves and the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The seeds weigh in around 14.9 kg or 33 pounds to a hefty 29.9 kg or 66 pounds.

Sea Coconut Photo by rwiedower

Trees generally take 30-60 years to begin flowering and may continue to do so for another 100-150 years. One of the homes of this fantastic tree is the Seychelles, where only two populations of the Coco de Mer remain in the wild. Due to the fantastic almost unbelievable size of the seed, the sea coconuts were believed to grow on a mythological tree at the bottom of the sea. 

This rare palm tree has a female sex and a male sex and is used in the creation of variety of herbal mixtures and medicines for coughs and colds. The Coco de Mer tree is now a rare and protected species. Trade in the sea coconut seeds is closely watched, but plundering Coco de Mer trees for illegal trade remains a problem because of their high value to buyers. Another threat to the sea coconut is fire since trees take almost half a century to start producing seeds. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Africa's Agricultural Backbone: Three C’s Coffee, Cocoa, and Cotton

Most of Africa's production of soft commodities including food is grown for local consumption. The definition of a soft commodity is a resource that is grown rather than mined such as coffee, cocoa, and cotton. African influences are extensive in the soft markets especially in the cases of coffee, cocoa and cotton. The three C’s of coffee, cocoa and cotton are of vital importance to the international soft commodity trade and the African economy. Unroasted coffee is Africa’s leading value export, cocoa beans are second and cotton lint is the third.


Unroasted Coffee

Coffee is a berry classified as a fruit
Ethiopia is the world’s fifth largest coffee producer and Africa’s top producer. Coffee is Ethiopia's principal source of income and the worlds demand for quality coffee is increasing steadily. More than 15 million people grow the crop for a living, hundreds of thousands of middlemen are involved in the collection of the crop from farmers and supply to the export and domestic market. A sizable amount of foreign exchange, accounting up to 30% of the total yearly export income, is derived from coffee. Ethiopia, coffee can still be found growing wild in the forests. Ethiopia is where the coffee plants Coffea Arabica, Canephora and Liberica originates. Three foremost regions where Ethiopian coffee beans originate are Harrar, Ghimbi, and Sidamo also known as Yirgacheffe.

Cocoa Beans

Ripe cocoa pod and beans
The Cacao tree is the source of cocoa beans, chocolate and so much more. The cacao tree grows wild in the forests of tropical regions but is also one of the tender trees of tropical growth. Africa produces well over 65% of the world’s cocoa beans. Many African countries now grow cocoa trees, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Congo but the main producers are Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire. There are three broad types of cocoa forastero and crillo plus trinitario. Forastero is the major portion of all cocoa grown, amelonado is a forastero variety most widely grown in West Africa and other regions. The peak time for harvesting Cocoa trees is between September and December in West Africa. Cocoa has always grown in many parts of the African tropics. The cacao-tree grows wild in the forests of tropical regions growing well in humid tropical climates with regular rains and a short dry season.

Cotton Lint

Raw Cotton
Cotton accounts for US $3.3 billion, the majority of the Benin's revenue. The economy of Benin is dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. The top export is cotton around 40% of $8.3 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or $3.3 billion, corn, manioc, tapioca, yams, beans, palm oil, peanuts, cashews, and livestock round-out the remaining exports. The number of cotton growers is around 235,500. After a difficult period, production is now once again getting under way, but with output likely to be below Benin’s glory days as King of Cotton. Planting is in the months from May to June, and harvesting is between October and December. Benin’s major export partners are China 25%, India 23.5%, Lebanon 18.7%, Niger 4.3%, and Nigeria 4%. Benin includes four differentiated cotton-growing areas, Northern zone in Alibori and Atacora, North-central zone in Borgou and Donga, Central zone in Zou and Collines and Southern zone in Ouémé, Palteau, Couffo and Mono.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Stomping the Yard: Gumboot Dancing

During the apartheid era gold mining was big business in South Africa. Black miners worked underground in terrible conditions, digging for gold for low wages. They carried out the most dangerous dirtiest jobs in the mines and the safety of the workers during the time was not a high priority. Small mining villages which later grew into larger settlements, towns and cities grew up around the gold mining industry. One of the first settlements was Johannesburg, also known as Egoli or the Place of Gold.

The two most common methods in South Africa for mining gold are panning and shaft mining. Shaft mining is a dangerous operation due to the intense heat, most black miners where hired for shaft mining work. Gold mining consumes large amounts of water and flooding became a problem to the employer due to low production from the workers due to air and water borne illnesses.  Acid and other chemicals in the water from gold processing were poisoning the shaft mine workers as well as harmful gases were contributing to air pollution causing breathing problems.
Thebe Ya Tlhajwa Secondary High School
Koffiekraal South Africa Gumboot Dance 

Arthur Wellesley won his battle over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815; Arthur Wellesley shoes became a fashion statement known as Wellingtons. In 1856 the North British Rubber Company started to manufacture Britain’s first rubber or ‘gum’ boots also known as Wellington boots. The rubber boots had a long history of relieving the issue of trench foot in World War I. Trench foot is a skin disease caused by prolonged exposure of feet to wet and damp conditions. At the end of the war in 1918, soldiers brought the gumboots home and wore them for work for farming, fishing and other wet dirty jobs. Therefore, a solution to the low production of the gold shaft mine workers was to mandate gumboots as a part of the daily uniform.

Gold mine tunnels were dark places where electricity was spotty if it existed or was allowed but communication critical. It did not take long for the shaft miners to create a language of their own by slapping, stomping and scuffling their boots creating newly found dancing language. Shells, bells and other decorative items were attached to the boots when possible giving workers their own unique tribal identity. Soon hand claps and rhythms using the whole body were incorporated with the gumboot stepping.
Phi Beta Sigma Step Show

Gumboot workers were easily recognized on the streets of South Africa due to their unique footwear and the gumboot became a fashion statement. Soon the gumboot dances and songs made their way out of the South African gold mines and into the culture of South Africa’s youth. Today gumboot dancing is more popular than ever across the world especially to African American college Fraternities and Sororities who drew on portions of gumboot as part of the ongoing legacy of the historic African American stepping tradition.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Art of Botswana Basket Weaving

The Hyphaene Petersiana tree is locally known in the African country of Botswana as the Mokolwane Palm. The Mokolwane Palm is a tree that produces the leaves used in the internationally popular Botswana traditional basket weaving art. The tree grows from Central Africa to Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa in dry sandy areas, often away from rivers.

Hand basket weaving
Photo by Visite Botswana
There are a series of small villages alongside the Westside of the Okavango Delta Botswana that create the woven art. The around 68,000 sq km or 17 million acre Okavango Delta marshlands and plains are home to some of the world’s most endangered species of large animals, such as lions and cheetahs, white and black rhinoceros, and the endangered African wild dog.
Women were walking greater distances every year, frequently a full day's journey, to find young Mokolwane Palms to harvest in order to create their woven art. The women of the villages, almost all of whom are basket weavers, were increasingly reluctant to undertake the journey due to the risks of traveling alone far from home. Young Mokolwane trees have thin blade-like leaves, which are sought-after by weavers for basketry. This is one of the problems affecting the scarcity of the young Mokolwane Palm. As the Mokolwane palm ages it grows up 25 meters or 80 feet tall, with its characteristic swollen in the middle trunk and feather-like leaves on the top of the tree. The Mokolwane also bear fruits, which are edible and can take from 10-20 years to yield.

Over the years, there have been major efforts to cultivate and establish farms for growing the Mokolwane Palm. Due to the scarcity of the tree, residents now buy the necessary raw materials for basket weaving from markets. The Palm leaves they purchase are already bleached and dyed and are ready to be worked. A small Mokolwane Palm basket can take a few days to create while large complicated baskets may take many months of painstaking work.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

African Sheep, Goat and Cow Milk Culture

In Africa, milk is usually consumed raw. Milk and milk products are important nutrient-dense foods having vital sources of proteins in the diets of people with limited access to protein-based foods in Africa. Protein is essential for building and repairing the body. Goat and cow’s milk has about 3.5 percent protein, and sheep’s milk around 4-6 percent protein. There are 49 indigenous sheep breeds and six major breeds are used to produce milk in the Horn of Africa and North Africa.

Depending on the breed, a cow’s (cattle) milk fat make-ups about 3 to 4 percent of the solid content, and protein about 3-4 percent. Goat milk has about 3-4 percent protein, is easier to digest and has more fat and calcium than cow’s milk. Sheep’s milk has 5-7 percent milk fat and 4-6 percent protein and is higher in calcium than goat and cow milk. Most sheep milk is made into cheese.
Milking a common goat photo by bert mb

In Africa, milk is usually consumed raw or made into soured milk. Raw milk is milk that has not been heated to a particular temperature for a certain amount of time or unpasteurized milk. Soured milk is raw milk in which an acid such as lemon or vinegar is added and used in numerous cooked porridge recipes throughout Africa.

Milk production from goats is more suitable than from cows for small households and small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa due to the land needed for grazing animals. Dairy goats are less expensive to raise, are easily handled, eat less than cattle, produce the right amount of milk for a household therefore storage of perishable milk is not an issue, depending on the breeder and the breed male goats can begin breading in 12-16 months from birth and females 16-18 months, and lastly goats produce more offspring.
Milking Awassi Sheep the traditional way
However, cows produce around 75 percent of the milk consumed in sub-Saharan Africa; milk from goats contributes around 13 percent and the remaining 12 percent by other animals such as sheep. Milk from sheep is important in the Horn of Africa and North Africa producing 7.5 percent and sub-Saharan Africa 7 percent. Goats have a higher milk yield than sheep and are the major source of milk and meat for many subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

In certain areas of the Horn of Africa and North Africa, sheep are an important source of meat and milk. Small farmers use the animals as a major source of meat and cash income raises most of Ethiopia’s estimated 71 million sheep and goats. About 75 percent of the total sheep flock is in the highlands, whereas lowland pastoralists maintain about 75 percent of the goatherd. There are 49 indigenous sheep breeds and six major breeds are used to produce milk. They are the Awasi, Nejdi, Barbary, Sicilio-Sarde and desert Sudanese. Sheep are raised for milk, meat, and money to be made from the sale of wool, hair and hide.

The cattle production industries in the Maghreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia produce significantly more cow’s milk compared to the rest of North Africa. Maghreb is from the Arabic word for west and is the vastly desert region of Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea not including Egypt (Maghreb does include Libya). Oats are the most important animal feed in the Maghreb region to cattle.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Love is beautiful in every language

Let your love be like the misty rains, coming softly, but flooding the river -Malagasy Proverb

Love is beautiful in every language 



Saturday, February 7, 2015

Zambian Bean and Cabbage Fritters

The Republic of Zambia is home to Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia until independence from Britain in 1964. The Zambian government states "Zambia is home to seventy various ethnic groups." Small family farms and subsistence farming accounts for around 80 percent of Zambia's agricultural areas. Besides corn, cabbage and beans are major crops in the everyday lives of Zambians. Zambian bean and cabbage fritters are an easy simple dish to make as a snack or appetizer.

Zambian Bean and Cabbage Fritters

Fritters by Green Mountain Girls Farm
1 can soybeans washed and drained
2 cups cooked shredded cabbage
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 tablespoon onion power
1 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for frying


Mix all ingredients well, roll into small size balls and fry until golden brown. Serve as a snack or appetizer.

Did you know…?
Under Zambian law, defaming the head of state is a criminal offence that carries a jail sentence of up to three years. Ex-president of Zambia Mr. Levy Mwanawasa who passed away August 19, 2008 was called a "cabbage" in The Zambian newspaper the post by Fred M'membe in February 2002. The term cabbage is other word for the term slow witted.

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